“All relationships consist of highs and lows, obstacles and different adversities. Our relationship has taught me many lessons, educated me and brought more awareness to my outlook on individuals with disabilities,” says Ashley Kurtz as she talks about her relationship with her fiancee Kiel.
Read about Ashley and Kiel's story below as Ashley shares about a new perspective she's gained being in a relationship with someone who has a spinal cord injury.
Our relationship is “interabled”, a term I had never heard of until we began dating. Kiel has a spinal cord injury (SCI) due to a football injury, which left him as an incomplete C5 quadriplegic. Due to the injury, Kiel uses a power chair and has limited dexterity of his hands. Even so, the SCI has not limited Kiel’s life or our relationship.
Kiel and I met during college, and have been together coming up on 5 years in January. When we first met, I was playing so many questions in my mind over and over. Knowing Kiel was in a wheelchair I wasn’t sure how the date would work, if I needed to help him get in/out of the car (especially when he told me he would drive), if I should the door for him, how would the dinner itself go, the questions went on and on. I can still picture myself climbing into the passenger side of his van, and us making small talk as we drove to the restaurant. I was anxious and nervous. I was trying not to obviously stare at his hand controls or trying to figure out how he was pressing on the gas. My mind was racing with questions. When we arrived at the restaurant, I got out of the van and anxiously waited to see if or what I needed to do to help Kiel. Before I knew it, a ramp deployed and out he came. We went into the restaurant (where he held the door me for me) and frankly, from that moment on I was in awe of Kiel. In the months to follow, we met each other's family and friends. To be honest—I was unsure how my family or friends would react, or how he would get into their homes for holidays or events. My mind was put to ease quickly when Kiel’s smile and laughter lit up the room each time he would meet someone new. He quickly won them all over and my family and friends welcomed him into the lives, just as I had done mine. My family and Kiel quickly formed a bond and love one another unconditionally. My family made and put up ramps for Kiel to get into their homes. Everyone always made it apparent that Kiel was welcome and loved.
Be Patient and Understanding
In the years of being together, I have learned to be patient and more understanding. Kiel laughs (or rolls his eyes) because many times I sincerely forget he’s in a wheelchair. Kiel’s resilience to the injury has not defined him. I don’t see the wheelchair when I look at him. I see the man he is, the strong and warming personality he possesses. He is charming and does not let his injury define him. He continuously surprises me with random flower/gifts, sweet words and endless love. I have learned that our relationship really isn’t much different compared to a couple that isn’t interabled. It has surprised, and quite honestly upset me at the ignorance of how many people look almost in shock when they learn we’re in a relationship, and that I am not his caregiver. However, like most things we don’t think about them or understand until we are in the situation. Kiel and I do many things, we always find a way, and we always have a great time. When the lows arise, we’re more thankful for the highs in life.
A Different Perspective
I would be lying if I said our relationship falls into the standard “norms of society.” Our relationship has several obstacles, ups, and downs, but when it comes down to it- what relationship doesn’t? Over the years, we have gone on many vacations, trips, and simple getaways. We have flown to different places and have experienced the horrors of flying with a wheelchair and the crossing of fingers and toes that the chair arrives in one solid piece. I’ve learned that the blue lines in a parking lot are in fact NOT a parking spot, and when someone uses them as such it makes it difficult for someone with a ramp to get in and out of their car, and I’ve learned that I take many things in life for granted. Often you don’t think about how easy it was to just “throw on your shoes and clothes and begin your day or to even simply feed yourself.
Most importantly, I’ve learned all the things that are affected when someone sustains a spinal cord injury, and it’s not as simple as “being paralyzed.” There are many other factors that play into someone having a spinal cord injury. With SCI, you are left to relearn how to even go to the bathroom with bowel and bladder routines—just another thing we take for granted. Spasticity is common when the body is stimulated in certain ways. It can also serve as a mechanism that the body is in pain or even uncomfortable but, the spasms keep the muscles from experiencing atrophy and maintaining circulation.
Even though Kiel has such a high injury, over the years of the accident he has adapted and relearned many everyday tasks and skills, enabling him to be independent. Many times people assume that I am in some sort his caretaker, but I am not. Kiel was injured years before we met and he has adapted and now does his own day to day routine. There are some things I help with, but mostly he has relearned everything even if it’s not the way he did it before. Being with Kiel has opened my eyes to so much, and has allowed me to see become more aware of all the changes a spinal cord injury brings to someone’s body and life. SCI causes instability of body temperature, causing abnormal responses to temperature change. I became aware of this in the summer months when the heat would be so severe and due to the SCI Kiel is unable to sweat, would result in overheating and the possibility to pass out. Dysreflexia is another acute complication that I learned is common with SCI. I was unaware of the simple things that could cause this. Something as simple as sitting on a button on their jeans, or not knowing they have to go to the bathroom could result in Dysreflexia. Kiel said the biggest adjustment for him was during the first year of his injury, but as time went on he began to adjust.
Even with all the changes, the way Kiel has handled his injury is admired and known by so many.
Time and time again, Kiel proves the impossible to be possible. Over the years since his injury, he has put in countless hours with physical and occupational therapy, lifting and working out on his own time, which ultimately allowed him to walk during his senior night and graduation. Although I met Kiel after his injury, I can see his hard work and continuous determination for success. People tell him all the time how strong and humble he is, how he has overcome so much and he’s an inspiration to many. And while he would kindly smile and say thank you, he doesn’t believe that. Kiel believes he took a situation, “a bad hand of cards” and turned it into a new life. Kiel broke his neck playing football at the age of 14—yet he would play again tomorrow if he could, and even with all the bumps in the road, he created a beautiful life. His Mom and Dad, his brother, family members, and surrounding communities were there to pick up the pieces and support him. Kiel doesn’t look at himself and see someone who is an inspiration—although along with everyone else, I would have to disagree. Currently, I am in school to obtain my BSN, and I use Kiel’s story as a reference all the time. His resilience and determination have taught me so much, and most importantly he has taught me that a disability doesn’t make anyone unworthy of being able to love.
Our relationship has been filled with tons of memories, laughs, and love and took an exciting turn recently and we are engaged! On April 28, 2018, when Kiel proposed to me at a beautiful winery in front of several of our friends. Now, our newest adventure is planning a wedding for the fall of 2019!
Thanks to Ashley for submitting her story to AbleThrive.com! Do you have your own lessons learned when it comes to dating? Share your story with us and you might be featured on AbleThrive.com!